Travel Tales: An Epicly Failed Road Trip

The story of how mom and I tried (and succeeded) to make my first journey to college into an adventure!

Some of the pictures I took on this trip are really awful… This was before I went to school to learn how to push a button (#photomajor)!

It was technically my second year of college, but it was my first time away from home. Mom wanted to make the trip really special.

She loved the fact that I was going to school in central Indiana, being from western NY. That meant every school year was the opportunity for a road trip!

So for my first official trip to college, she found a “scenic route” along the river that we could take. And she was definitely planning to be spontaneous!

The (president) Garfield’s house, Mentor, OH.

Below, the start of the “Garfield Trail” in Marion, IN.

We stopped at the James A. Garfield House first. Mom had been so excited to see this.

I think I would have been more excited if it was Garfield the Cat’s house, but I was able to get my fill of cartoon Garfield in central Indiana. There is a “trail” of Garfield statues all over Grant County.

The Garfield House was easy to find. You just type it into your GPS (so old school!) and follow the nicely mapped out route.

But then mom wanted to follow the scenic route.

And that’s when our troubles began.

It all started when there was a detour.

That we somehow missed.

Now, I don’t remember how exactly this happened. All I know is that in my journal describing this adventure, I wrote:

We were taking the scenic route, although there was a detour that we missed and we did get lost for a while and end up in very scenic "in the middle of Indiana (or was it still Ohio?) farmland”.

I just remember driving through what seemed like private farmland, with nothing but fields on either side of us, and absolutely no idea where the highway (or any real road) was.

  • Side note on driving Route 30 across Indiana: There is a long stretch where there are no bathrooms or gas stations in site. I always made sure to fill up (and empty!) in Mansfield, OH before getting on Route 30. There are rest stops when you first get on at Mansfield, and towards the end of Route 30, but in the middle, it is just farm land.

Some how we found our way back to the actual “scenic route.” Mom had found a state park that she wanted to stop at, so that was our ultimate destination (I mean… college was… but until then, the state park was our ultimate destination).

But if we found random places to stop along the way, all the better!

So here we are, driving along, listening to a book on tape (that we still never finished!), and along comes a sign for rapids on the river.

And mom says, “Ok!”

And pulls off.

I mean, I always wanted to do a road trip where you just drove, and followed signs and pulled off at random places, but the sign was literally right there at the turn. We were driving, probably 55 mph, and here comes this sign and a turn off.

And we turned off.

Right. There.

Aw, well, what’s life if you don’t live a little, right?

So we stopped, took some pictures, went on our merry way.

And then we saw another sign.

This one was for a fishing spot. We don’t fish, but mother was in the mood to turn off for everything.

So turn off to this fishing spot down at the river, but there’s another sign! And it says “Parking Upper Lot Only.”

Being completely ignorant tourists, we didn’t know where the “upper lot” was (I mean, other than up…).

We could see what looked like a small road through the trees, that was going… lo and behold… up! So we decided this clearly was the road to take to get to the upper lot.

The road was small—barely wide enough for our car—and branches scratched along the sides all the way up.

Should we turn back? we wondered. But no, there was no turning back now!

Up, up, up we climbed, until we came to the top of the little road. The only problem was, the top of the little road did not line up with the ground above it!

For a second, we were stuck, our giant car teetering on a ledge between a tiny dirt road and whatever lay above it.

This is the moment where we panic. I mean, who made this road? Didn’t they consider how big a car was when they built this road?

And here we were, at too much of an angle to go either up or down. We must wait here perilously until some fisherman comes and judges us!

But mom gunned it, and we made it!

We emerged in the grass, right next to a picnic table.

And on the other side of the grass… the elusive upper lot! And a very well paved road that led in and out of it.

So what you’re really supposed to do is keep driving past the fishing spot sign, further down the road to the upper lot. Then you park “up” there, and walk through the lovely visitor’s center, down the stairs to the fishing spot.

And maybe if you’re dragging a boat down or something (we’re not fishers), maybe that’s why you can use the cute little dirt path that is clearly not for cars!

The view down by the river wasn’t so bad though!

Mama, sitting in the relaxing fishing spot, totally chill now that we found the real upper lot.

After that, our adventures were pretty mild. We found our way to that state park we actually planned on visiting. We started walking along the bike path, thinking it would loop back around.

But it just kept going.


Forever and ever.

Not even a bend in the road.

And the further we walked, the further we would have to walk back…

Hot, sweaty, and already pretty adventured out, we finally gave up on the path ever taking any other direction, and just turned back around and walked back.

This was our last stop before arriving at our hotel in Gas City, IN, just outside of Marion where my school was. We left at 8 in the morning, on what should have been about a 7 hour drive. We arrived at 6:00 pm.

At this point I was legitimately stressing out (no, I had been the whole time) because the next day I would not be staying with mom, but in the dorm room where she was going to LEAVE ME ALL ALONE!

We came out from dinner just as the sun was setting, and being flat, it was easy to see it for miles. I just wanted to go back, shower and sleep, but mom started driving to get a better picture.

The faster we drove toward the setting sun, the faster it sunk below the horizon. We never did get a really great picture, but mom sure had fun “chasing the sunset.”

I’ve always loved that expression, “chasing the sunset.” There’s something very magical, and nostalgic feeling about it.

And when I remember my first trip to college, I don’t remember being scared, or nervous, or hot, or lost, or grumpy.

I remember making memories with mom, and “chasing the sunset.”